Kelly: Bullish on UNO, alumni to display Maverick pride in bronze -
Published Monday, September 30, 2013 at 12:30 am / Updated at 11:24 pm
Kelly: Bullish on UNO, alumni to display Maverick pride in bronze

The University of Nebraska at Omaha is bullish on its future, and will say so in a concrete — make that a bronze — way.

A $200,000 project celebrating the 100th anniversary of the UNO Alumni Association will mean the installation of a bronze bull called the Maverick Monument.

Eight feet tall at the shoulder and weighing 1,500 pounds, it will be placed on campus next to the Sapp Fieldhouse and the Health, Physical Education and Recreation Building.

“I can't imagine a more exciting time at UNO than what we're going through right now,” said Lee Denker, alumni association president. “Enrollment is up, and when you look around campus you see cranes for new buildings. We're doing things that our alums from 50 years ago could not imagine.”

The installation of the sculpture a year from now, he said, will fulfill a dream of past and present students. The bull will be double life-size.

“We wanted him to have a presence and to be in a place that was his own,” Denker said. “And to be uniquely UNO, really representing the spirit and power of our alumni and our students.”

The sculpture will be formally announced on campus Tuesday, and a 16-pound bronze-patina scale model will be displayed.

Chancellor John Christensen thanked the alumni association and said the bull sculpture will be “a unifying symbol and rallying point.”

This fall, UNO welcomed a record 15,227 students, including its largest freshman class. In the past decade, the school says, the number of degrees awarded has increased by 46 percent.

The alumni association said the university by next year will reach a milestone of 100,000 living graduates, of whom 43,000 reside in the Omaha area.

A committee of students, faculty, staff and alumni considered proposals from five sculptors. The nod went to wildlife artist Jocelyn Russell, who lives 60 miles northwest of Seattle in the San Juan Islands, an archipelago that's part of the state of Washington.

In June, she traveled from the northwest corner of the contiguous states to the center of America to tour the UNO campus and meet people, which gave her a better feel for the project.

Russell literally has a feel for the anatomy of animals: She grew up in southern Colorado, helping to skin and butcher deer, elk and other wild game that her father and brothers hunted. She later did branding and other work for a 350-head cow and calf herd, and served as a “hands-on” veterinarian's surgical assistant.

Originally a painter, she switched mainly to sculpture more than two decades ago. She has sculpted animal mascots for, among others, Utah State, BYU and the U.S. Marine Corps.

“When I do sculpture,” she said, “to me, it comes to life in my hand. When I'm painting, it's with the end of my brush. Sculpture comes more from the ends of my fingertips.”

She said she felt “very rooted and grounded” while visiting UNO and understood the alumni association's vision — including the scale of the bull.

“It's going to be big,” she said. “Towering. Bronze mounted on a granite base.”

Martha Spangler, UNO's student president/regent, served on the committee that considered sculptors' proposals and said Russell's design was great.

“It's going to create a different kind of vibrancy on campus,” said Spangler, a senior sociology major from Peru, Neb. “This will be an icon really connecting the campus to something traditional. And it will show our school spirit — we are Mavericks.”

UNO is no longer the commuter-only campus of old. It extends south to the former Ak-Sar-Ben racetrack property, which includes the Peter Kiewit Institute and Mammel Hall.

In the past decade, the university has added more than a million square feet of new or renovated space and has invested more than $250 million.

That includes major renovations such as converting Roskens Hall into the new home for the College of Education, and the former Engineering Building into the College of Public Affairs and Community Service.

Mammel Hall for business students opened in 2010, and a new Biomechanics Research Building was dedicated this month. A Community Engagement Center is scheduled to open next year and a university-community arena for athletics and other events in 2015.

The campus south of 60th and Dodge Streets, called the University of Omaha until 1968, got its first student housing in 1999. It now offers 2,080 campus beds, all of which were filled this fall.

In 2011, UNO moved up to Division I in all athletics, a decision that included the controversial elimination of football and wrestling. Since then, officials say, the athletic budget has operated in the black. (The school has played Division I hockey since 1997.)

Also in 2011, UNO was reclassified from a master's degree-granting to a doctoral/research institution. The school said it is one of only 88 universities nationally to achieve that ranking out of more than 4,000 institutions of higher learning.

The bull sculpture, UNO says, will represent a university on the move.

Athletic teams have been known as the Ponies/Shetland (1912-13), the Crimson and Black (1913-20), the Maroons (1920-24), the Cardinals (1924-39) and the Indians (1939-71.) Teams have been the Mavericks for 42 years, longer than any other mascot name at the school, and UNO says the Mavs “are here to stay.”

The UNO Alumni Association will host a communitywide 100th-anniversary celebration Nov. 8 on the UNO campus. Musician Billy McGuigan, a UNO grad, will perform his “Rock Legends” show. Proceeds will support the monument and a surrounding plaza.

Denker, the alumni president, said graduates and others are encouraged to donate for the Maverick Monument at\mavmonument. Gifts of $500 or more will be acknowledged with names engraved on a wall.

“The alumni association is committed to making this happen,” Denker said. “We're pretty fired up. I can already imagine generations of alumni returning to campus with their children and grandchildren to have a photo taken with the Maverick Monument.”

Contact the writer: Michael Kelly    |   402-444-1000

Mike writes three columns a week on a variety of topics.

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